Reciprocal switching returns to Surface Transportation Board (STB) agenda

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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Reciprocal shipping is back on the STB’s agenda in 2022.
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While this is not a topic RT&S would normally cover, the debate over reciprocal or "competitive" switching has been brewing for years, and all members of the rail and rail supply & maintenance industries should be aware of it.

Essentially, shippers that are served by only one railroad usually rely on that railroad for both first-mile and last-mile switching service from the railroad that also handles the shippers line-haul movement. This is particularly true for those shippers that have only one railroad nearby who can handle their shipping needs.

Shippers claim that reciprocal switching will introduce competition leading to lower rates, and the railroads say that implementing competitive switching will cause an operational nightmare. The details of reciprocal switching can become complex as one considers the different scenarios under which it could occur, and the reader can find lots of material about it in various resources.

The Surface Transportation Board has held hearings on this issue before, and it is taking the matter up again. Below is a press release from the STB about this:

“The Surface Transportation Board today announced details of the upcoming public hearing on proposed reciprocal switching regulations.  The public hearing will be held on March 15 and 16, 2022, beginning at 9:30 a.m. on each day, at the Board’s Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and will be available for viewing on the Board’s website.  If the Board later determines that the hearing should be held virtually, the Board will issue a subsequent decision no later than March 1, 2022.

“This hearing concerns the proposed reciprocal switching regulations in Reciprocal Switching, Docket No. EP 711 (Sub-No. 1) et al. (NPRM).  The NPRM introduced new regulations under which the Board would exercise its statutory authority to require rail carriers to establish switching arrangements in certain circumstances.  The NPRM generated divergent responses from a variety of stakeholders and the Board has reviewed the existing record in this proceeding.  Since issuance of the NPRM and receipt of written comments in this docket, there have been significant changes in and affecting the freight rail industry.  Commenters may now have additional or modified views on the effects of and/or need for the proposed regulations.  Interested persons are invited and encouraged to engage in this public hearing to address these issues and any other matters relevant to this proceeding.

“The Board will pause the period for ex parte communications in this proceeding beginning January 24, 2022, to provide an opportunity for hearing participants and other interested persons to address the information contained in ex parte meeting summaries.  Persons wishing to speak at the hearing should file with the Board by January 27, 2022, a notice of intent to participate (identifying the party, proposed speaker, and time requested).  Written comments, including required written testimony by hearing participants, may be submitted by February 14, 2022.  Hearing participants are required to submit written testimony by this date.  Additionally, by the same date, any interested person, including those who will not appear at the hearing, may submit written comments addressing matters related to the proceeding, including the specific areas of interest identified in today’s decision.”

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